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The perfect baked potato to pair with a steak

Q:

What is the perfect baked potato to pair with a steak?

A:

Everyone has their own ideas as to what makes the perfect baked potato, so that’s where having a personal opinion comes in. I get the opportunity to visit a lot of restaurants and the ones that make the potato the “star” have a couple of things in common.  Because of the natural “meat and potatoes” association, the finest steakhouse baked Idaho® potatoes have a lot in common with the preparation that you can do at home.

  1. The potato never was close to or in a microwave. For convenience sake, it is ok to microwave potatoes at home, just know that they are not going to taste the same as something that came out of a piping hot conventional or convection oven. It’s a fact that potatoes have about 20% solids (sometimes referred to as starch) however the other 80% is moisture, as in water. Baking in a dry heat oven or on the BBQ grill forces much of that water to evaporate, leaving a nice crispy outer skin and a dry fluffy interior. So unless you are in a big hurry, turn on the oven.
  2. The variety of the potato (and I also believe the source or state) has a lot more to do with a perfect baked potato than you might think. Of course, I am assuming that you looked for the “Grown in Idaho®” seal on the nearby bagged russets and found that Idaho is one of the few states (in fact, the first) to label the variety right on the bag or plastic white enclosure tag, called a quick lock. Look for the words Russet Norkotah or Russet Burbank or other Idaho variety names such as Ranger, Umatilla, Alturas, etc. If you find a variety you like, then ask the produce buyer at the store to continue to stock it. If you want a little moister baked russet potato, choose the Russet Norkotah. This is the variety commonly sold in grocery stores from August to March. Personally I find that this variety needs to be baked a little longer, typically ten more minutes. While it is not as pretty a potato, the Idaho® Russet Burbank is the potato of choice by steak restaurants.
  3. Size: The expensive steakhouse chains such as Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, The Capital Grille, or Smith & Wollensky use an Idaho® Russet Burbank variety potato, about a pound each. Same with local favorites like Peter Luger in Brooklyn, Bern’s in Miami, Manny’s in Minneapolis, Gibson’s in Chicago or The House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. Budget steakhouses such as Sizzler or Golden Corral typically use a slightly smaller potato, the size you’ll find at most grocery stores in the loose potato displays, about 11-12 ounces.

Since restaurants use their ovens for lots of different food cooking applications the chances are that they are cooking the potatoes longer and hotter than you do at home. I recommend preheating the oven to 400°F, setting the timer for an hour. The potato is done when the internal temperature is 210°F, or a minimum of 185°F.

More tips when it comes to the perfect baked potato:

  • Don’t store the potatoes in the refrigerator; the natural starches will convert to sugar and the potato will taste sweet when baked. Store in a cool dark place such as your pantry or where you store your dry cereals.
  • Don’t wrap the potato in foil, this just steams the potato and makes the skin wet. Yes, some restaurants do this but primarily they are trying to hold the potatoes longer and dress them up. The brown skin may not be the prettiest vegetable but it does not improve the flavor when the water content is trapped inside a sealed wrapper. I use a fork to pierce the potato on both sides to let steam escape and then I place the potatoes (with spacing around each) in the oven right on the racks so they will cook evenly and faster than if bunched together or on a cold metal tray.
  • When a potato is done baking you can usually start to smell the aroma leaking out of the oven or vents. Pull one of the potatoes and poke it with a fork till you don’t see the tines of the fork.  Just like baking a cake, the fork should come out nearly clean once the potato is thoroughly baked. Or, use a meat thermometer and check the temperature to see if you are above 185°F. If you need to hold a potato until dinner is ready, turn off the oven but keep the door closed and the heat will stay in for another 10-15 minutes. That’s about how long it takes for me to start and finish a steak on the BB
  • I open the potato with a fork, cutting a cross into the top of the potato. Then I push in both ends of the potato and it will blossom open, just like at your favorite steak house. If the potato is still moist inside I pop it into the micro wave for 30-45 seconds, pull it out and put on salt, pepper, and your favorite toppings such as butter, sour cream, cottage cheese or low fat yogurt. For a healthier option (which I love for a lunch entree) I put fresh salsa on the potato with no dairy products. It tastes great!